Saturday, January 17, 2009
Love Songs ***1/2
Director: Christophe Honoré
Cast: Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier, Clotilde Hesme
Chiara Mastroianni, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Brigitte Rouan
"...and these songs that we sing, do they mean anything to the people that we're singing them to?"
"The Songs That We Sing" by Charlotte Gainsbourg
From its title sequence reminiscent of "The 400 Blows" to its odd sense of existence, without falling into self awareness, Christophe Honoré's refreshing musical "Love Songs" just exudes nouvelle vague-ness.
"I'm sick of movies alone" sighs Julie (Sagnier) to her boyfriend Ismael (Garrel) over the phone, while she waits for him outside a theater. They have been together for, what we can assume has been, a significant amount of time and have fallen into the kind of rut they try to solve by adding a third person to the relationship.
Said person comes in the shape of Alice (Hesme), Ismael's co-worker, who shares their bed and unusual sexual life.
But the film isn't about their unorthodox way of life, nor how they got there or what the social/moral implications are, it's about the way in which people deal with love nowadays, searching for new options in whatever shape they come, it deals with a youthful world view where everything seems possible.
That is until reality comes and spoils everything. The reality here comes in the unexpected death of one of them, who literally drops dead, sending the other two in opposite directions trying to get back in a game they thought they'd already won.
Using Alex Beaupain's delightful songs to craft this musical, director Honoré comes up with an invigorating way of approaching what has become a feared cinematic style.
"Is it your pretty bum, fear of loneliness?" sings Garrel to his girlfriend wondering what is it that makes him attracted to her. The directness of some of the lyrics smooths the suspension of disbelief, but Beaupain equally falls into epically romantic lines, "have you ever loved for the sheer sake of it?", that make for a curiously effective combination of harsh reality with fablesque optimism.
In his previous film, Honoré paid homage to Jean Luc Godard and here he continues his tradition with a liberating outlook on relationships straight out of "A Woman is a Woman", but unlike that film's obtuse technique with musical scenes, "Love Songs" owes its fluidity to Jacques Démy who indulged the viewer with epic song and dance moments that felt inherent to the story being told.
Godard-ian in spirit but Truffaut-esque in execution the director's biggest misstep might be in the feeling of disconnectedness perceived in the transitions from musical sequences to dialogue.
He never musters up the same emotional flow, but is that actually a bad thing or can it be argued that by making this disconnection so obvious he's in fact making a point?
When looking back at life most people will forget names, places and persons but they somehow never forget the music that accompanied them.
In the very same way the characters sing, not because they are aware of it, but as if they'd become possessed by an other worldly force.
Garrel gives his most complete performance to date, making Ismael both lovable and sort of an asshole, while the divine Sagnier seems to float over the film (both have sweet, honest singing voices).
Yet the real find is Leprince-Ringuet as Erwann, whose baby face and innocence give the film its entire sense of meaning. His character becomes infatuated with Ismael, going to the point of following him just to convince him that he is the one.
Again, sexuality becomes completely irrelevant as the camera sweeps us and the film finds an intense, but unadorned, emotional sincerity as it tries to find love amidst grief.
In the same way Erwann dives fearlessly into the the unknown with the hopes of love (even in the face of heartbreak), Honoré throws us and himself into this gorgeous film.